(P01)
Trauma subjectivities - the experience and imaginaries of suffering in the 21st century
Location A4-004
Date and Start Time 07 Dec, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Julia Vorhoelter (Goettingen University) email
  • Kenneth Finis (Macquarie University) email

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Short abstract

This panel seeks to bring together recent anthropological research on trauma, its experience and interpretation. It is specifically interested in how the notion of trauma is deployed or rejected in different regions and by different actors, and how it shapes individual and collective subjectivities.

Long abstract

Trauma has become an almost omnipresent way of expressing and imagining suffering across the globe (Fassin & Rechtman 2009). Whereas concepts like trauma and PTSD were initially associated with western psychology and psychiatry, they have now spread to many other contexts and are being deployed, appropriated, or resisted, by a range of actors and for different purposes: humanitarian organisations implement 'trauma interventions', aiming to rebuild and heal whole societies after war or disaster; minorities or indigenous communities point to experiences of historical or intergenerational trauma, drawing attention to the continued presence of supposedly 'past' events; and individuals use the notion of trauma to express personal distress or uncertainty about contemporary human conditions. Trauma has become a political as much a medical concept that shapes individual and collective subjectivities. Although it is a particular frame for remembering the past, the omnipresence of trauma tells us a lot about the state of the world in the 21st century.

Since Young's (1995) groundbreaking critical work on 'the invention' of PTSD, anthropology has contributed important ethnographic insight to the ongoing debate. It is no longer sufficient to simply criticize trauma as a 'western' export; it has become a 'reality' in many parts of the world as people (re)interpret and (re)experience suffering through its framework. This panel brings together recent anthropological research on experiences and interpretations of trauma. It is interested in how the notion of trauma is deployed (or rejected) in different regions by different actors, and how it shapes individual and collective subjectivities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The impacts of terrorism: five conversations exploring how violence affects the everyday lives of ordinary people

Author: Carmen Jacques (Edith Cowan University) email
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Short abstract

This paper is interested in the ways the traumatic experience of a terror attack shapes individual and collective lives. Specifically, through acts of storytelling I seek to understand how participants have struggled to regain a sense of agency.

Long abstract

In this paper I will explore how an act of terrorism affects the everyday lives of ordinary people. I will describe some of the ways in which the participants in this study have struggled to regain a sense of self/agency after the traumatic experience of a terror attack. I will also outline some of the theoretical and methodological approaches I have undertaken in order to understand these experiences. Specifically, I use storytelling, everyday ethics and collaborative ethnography to enable the co-creation of emergent knowledge on the struggle to live ethical, or hopeful, lives after experiencing trauma. I do not seek to describe trauma as a medical condition; rather I view it, as Tumarkin (2005) describes, as an individual/collective response to suffering. I have spoken with six people all of whom have varying experiences of the 2001 New York, 2002 Bali and/or 2005 London terror attacks.

Traumatised by the fear of violent crime: secondary trauma amongst Afrikaner immigrants in Australia

Author: Hanna Jagtenberg (University of Adelaide) email
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Short abstract

This paper argues that contemporary Afrikaner immigrants in Australia are traumatised by the fear of violent crime in their home country South Africa. Because this fear is primarily based on stories of crime victims rather than on actual victimisation, they suffer from secondary traumatisation.

Long abstract

Since the end of Apartheid in South Africa, many white South Africans, including the Afrikaner sub-group -of mainly Dutch/German descent with Afrikaans as their vernacular- have immigrated to Australia. Based on ethnographic research amongst this group, conducted in 2015 and 2016, in this paper I argue that the great majority of Afrikaners were traumatised by the fear of becoming a victim of violent crime. Due to their exposure to and experience with crime in post-1994 South Africa, they had lost their sense of safety with regards to freedom from physical harm in their home country. This loss, however, was above all based on stories of violent crime victims, not on actual victimisation. Thus, the Afrikaners suffered from secondary traumatisation, meaning that they had psychological problems similar to actual victims despite the fact that they had not become victims of violent crime themselves. In Australia, most of them needed an adjustment period ranging from several months up to ten years in order to get used to the normality of living in freedom from fear of violent crime. Most study participants experienced difficulties with letting go of old 'South African' habits with regards to attempting to keep safe from physical violence, and some experienced a post-traumatic release of long-suppressed anxiety. With time, however, the fear emotion was replaced by the emotion of trust, which allowed the Afrikaners to adjust to their new circumstances.

Supporting young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' healing from inter-generational trauma

Authors: Elisabeth Betz email
Ros Lording email
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Short abstract

This paper discusses contemporary experiences of trauma in Indigenous communities, the impact this has on Indigenous young people and pathways to healing identified by young people for young people.

Long abstract

Co-Author: Joe Hedger

Indigenous people continue to suffer from inter-generational trauma caused by the effects and ongoing impacts of colonisation and the stolen generations. This paper discusses contemporary experiences of trauma in Indigenous communities, the impacts this has on Indigenous youth and strengths-based pathways to healing identified by young people for young people.

The declaration of Indigenous people as 'non-human' or 'less worth' than colonisers led to lost connections and experiences of abuse facilitated through stolen land, culture and children. Less than a century ago, between 1910 and 1970, one in three Indigenous children has been forcibly removed (Healing Foundation 2018). This means that most Indigenous people today are impacted by trauma through what Atkinson, Nelson and Atkinson (2010, p. 138) describe as "the subjective experiencing and remembering of events in the mind of an individual or the life of a community, passed from adults to children". This is particularly problematic in the context of Indigenous young people who grow up experiencing inter-generational trauma without understanding what this means and where this comes from. This can have tremendous impact on their identity, development, health and wellbeing. Indeed, Indigenous youth are experiencing one of the highest rates of self-harm and suicide in the world (Culture is Life 2018) with Indigenous young people aged 15-19 being 5.9 times more likely to commit suicide compared to non-Indigenous Australians (ABS 2018).

It is important to support the healing of Indigenous young people today, therefore this paper discusses the development of strengths-based strategies to support such approaches.

Intersubjectivity and the interpretation of intergenerational trauma: case studies from Cambodia

Author: Kenneth Finis (Macquarie University) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores intergenerational trauma from the perspective of young Cambodians born after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Their alternative understandings highlight the potential influence of local interpretation and contemporary context on how following generations experience traumatic pasts.

Long abstract

The concept of intergenerational trauma has become an increasingly accepted understanding of the potential for trauma experienced by parents to be transmitted to children, having a negative influence on their psychological wellbeing. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper explores alternative perspectives from young Cambodians regarding the influence of the Khmer Rouge period on themselves. It discusses the role that interpretation, narrative, and socioeconomic circumstances may play in how following generations experience the influence of parental trauma.

In Cambodia the extreme hardship and loss suffered during the Khmer Rouge period was almost ubiquitous, and the impact on survivors and the country's development has received much attention. While recognising the significance of what their parents endured, the young respondents of this study reported not thinking of themselves or their peers as suffering ongoing effects of this time. Rather, they saw their lack of direct experience as being a distinguishing factor which protected them against personal impact. Much more prominent in their minds were contemporary stressors and structural inequalities which affected their ability to improve their livelihoods and build more stable futures for themselves and their families.

In analysing the formation and implications of these perspectives, I draw from scholars such as Jackson, Kleinman, and Kidron to theorise the role of narrative and interpretation on the influence that the past may have on individuals and their communities. I discuss these findings in the context of global mental health movements, and in how they interact with psychotherapeutic approaches to trauma.

Chronic suffering as a way of life

Author: Emily Graham (Swinburne University) email
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Short abstract

Based on ethnographic research in a Vedda-Tamil fishing village in eastern Sri Lanka, this paper contributes to an understanding of the lived experience of suffering, and the kind of reasoning about the past, present and future that are fostered in conditions of chronic suffering.

Long abstract

This paper considers how people living in chronic suffering make sense of their life trajectories. It is informed by seven months of ethnographic fieldwork in a small Vedda-Tamil fishing village in eastern Sri Lanka. The community has experienced multiple significant hardships. These include natural disasters such as cyclones, yearly flooding and the 2004 tsunami, and human-made disaster with 30 years of civil war and ongoing discrimination and marginalization.

Yet participants spoke about poverty as the hardest thing of all. This paper examines the way villagers told their life stories through a lens of suffering. For them, the ongoing experience of poverty has 'normalized' long-term suffering. While their suffering is real, people have become accustomed to it, and resigned to its continuance, to the extent that it is difficult for villagers to imagine a different life. Many believe that life will always be full of suffering, and that their children can never escape from it, affecting the way they plan for the future. This discussion contributes to an understanding of the lived experience of chronic suffering, and the kind of reasoning about the past, present and future that are fostered in conditions of chronic suffering.

"Problems that make you feel powerless": challenging biopsychiatry's notion of trauma in the Hearing Voices Network

Author: Sandra Gonzalez (University of the Basque Country) email
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Short abstract

This paper draws upon governmental theories of self-management in order to address HV's notion of trauma and its (dis)continuities regarding the biopsychiatric approach. This is achieved through the bibliographic review of the literature produced by the HV's founders since 1989 to the present.

Long abstract

Hearing Voices (HV) is a mental health service-user/survivor movement based on a social justice approach and the centrality of experts by experience in the phenomenon of hearing voices. This paper draws upon governmental theories of self-management in order to address HV's paradigm towards recovery from mental distress. Whilst it is embedded in the psy-complex, the main purpose is to analyse its continuities and discontinuities with respect to the biopsychiatric notion of trauma and its neoliberal self-management based upon hiper-responsible and neurochemical 'ideal patients'. This is achieved through the bibliographic review of the literature and research agenda produced by the HV's founders, Marious Romme and Sandra Escher since 1989 to the present.

This analysis points out that interpersonal traumatic events play a key role in the HV's mode of self-management and therefore in the relations and conceptualizations of self, illness and agency. First, the assumption of the notion of interpersonal trauma frames the self as relational and constituted by inner and outer power relationships. Second, it makes possible the production of meaningful connexions between self and illness through techniques of the self. And third, it enables the production of experiential knowledge, a collective experience of illness, through mediations. As a result, the HV's model of self-management proposes an entirely disruptive approach that reframes the modes of relating towards the self and one's voices based upon the way subjectivity is produced and transformed in relation to traumatic personal events.

From trauma to breakthrough: conceptualizing trauma as a learning process in anthropology

Author: Alex Pavlotski (La Trobe University) email
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Short abstract

Fieldwork often confronts the ethnographer with radically different mentalities and extreme events and conditions. This paper seeks to harness trauma as an aid to learning and offers a simple model of cognition that might be used to mitigate the negative impacts of traumatic field encounters.

Long abstract

In the psychological tradition, trauma is always presented in negative terms. However, anthropological understandings of ritual and non-western models of healing suggest the possibility that experiences which are considered to be traumatic can also facilitate healing, identity construction and belonging. More recent work by psychologist Martin Seligman also suggests that traumatic experience can serve to generate competence and resilience. Anthropological fieldwork can often be a difficult and confronting experience, often meeting contemporary diagnostic standards of trauma. However, these confrontations and difficulties are also key to participation, learning and the acquisition of emic experience. This paper presents a model of trauma that that relates it with deep learning and the shifting of perspectives. It also presents trauma in relation to the idea of breakthrough, empathy and the process of becoming in the context of ethnographic fieldwork. Learning, consciousness and bias are presented through the visual model of the 'congative triangle'. This model can be used as conceptual preparation for ethnographers preparing to enter the field to minimize the negative impacts of ethnographic encounters and optimize the possibility of learning from field trauma.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.